New test can track nerve gas traces in terror attack

March 15th, 2012 - 3:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 15 (IANS) Scientists have developed a test that traces difficult-to-detect residues of sarin, a nerve agent used by terrorists, back to its source.

For instance, sarin leaves traces after an attack but there has been no practical way of tracing the residues back to their actual source.

Sarin is a manmade nerve agent, the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. It is a clear, colourless, odourless and tasteless liquid that can evaporate into gas, the journal Analytical Chemistry reports.

Exposure to large doses of sarin may cause loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure possibly leading to death.

Carlos Fraga from Pacific Northwest National Lab, Washington, said his team has developed a new technology that identifies impurities in a sarin sample at a crime scene and matches them like a fingerprint to the impurities in the source chemicals, pinpointing the likely source.

They found that up to 88 percent of the impurities in source chemicals used to make sarin, also known as GB, can wind up in the finished product, and these impurities are unique, like a fingerprint, according to a Pacific Northwest statement.

So exactly how would these “fingerprints” help the FBI, police and other federal law enforcement officials?

Using standard lab instruments, scientists did impurity profiling and correctly identified the starting materials used for two different batches of GB.

This may one day become a basis for using impurity profiling to help find and prosecute perpetrators of chemical attacks, said Fraga.

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